Elicitation: How to Acquire Information

Elicitation: How to Acquire Information

Last update: 06 May, 2018

What is elicitation? This strange word means using techniques to gather information or knowledge about people. Elicitation is nothing more than a technique used to acquire information discretely, without the other person knowing.

In order to obtain it without arousing suspicion or the person realizing what you’re doing, you cannot ask them directly. The subjects of elicitation may never realize they gave away important information.

Two women are talking while wearing matching outfits.

The traits of an elicitor

A person with a lot of knowledge about elicitation needs to know a lot about people, like how they behave and the cultural differences and predispositions there may be. Elicitors are usually people with strong desires to help people, even strangers. They are characterized by the desire to appear to be well-informed individuals that can talk about any topic and are very professional.

Elicitors are very interested in gossip. They tend to correct others. They tend to believe that other people are honest and refuse to be distrustful. When they are asked something honestly, they tend to say the truth. But they also tend to convince others that their opinion is the correct one.

A man taking a photo of a woman taking a photo: elicitation

Elicitation techniques

There are many different elicitation techniques. Which one is used depends on the moment and the skills of each elicitor. Some of them are described as follows:

  • Assume knowledge: To pretend to have knowledge or associations in common with someone. For example, “according to the IT guys I used to work with…”
  • Bracketing: To provide an estimated range, with a lower and higher figure, to draw the person into saying a more specific number. For example, “I suppose the rate will have to go up soon. I assume between five and fifteen euros.” To this, the person could respond: “Probably around seven euros.”
  • Can you beat this?: To tell an extreme story with the hopes that the other person will want to outdo it or finish it. For example, “I heard that X company is developing a new incredible product that can…”
  • Confidential bait: To pretend to divulge confidential information with the hopes of receiving confidential information in exchange. For example, “Just between you and me…”
  • Criticism: To criticize an individual or an organization in which the other person is interested in the hope that they will divulge information to defend it. For example, “How did that company score that contract?” or “Everybody knows that X company has better engineers for that type of job.”
  • Denial of the obvious: To say something incorrect in the hope that the other person will correct the statement with true information. For example, “Everyone knows the process won’t work, it’s just a dream that will never take off.”
  • Fake ignorance: To pretend to not know anything about a subject. This will make the other person talk about the topic, in order to teach you. For example, “I’m new in this field and could use all of the help I can get” or “How does this work?”
Two pairs of hand during a conversation.

How to resist elicitation techniques

The first step to preventing people from acquiring important information from you is to know which information is relevant and important. Out of everything we know, what could be of value to other people?

Once you have identified the valuable information you possess, the logical thing would be to be suspicious of anyone who asks about it. You must never give away information to people who are not authorized to know it, including your family and close friends.

In order to resist elicitation, you can do various things. Some of them are as follows:

  • Answer with public information, like information that appears in the media and press.
  • Ignore questions and change the subject.
  • Answer with a question.
  • Answer by asking, “Why do you ask?”
  • Give a banal answer.
  • Say you don’t know the answer. You don’t know anything about that topic in particular.
  • Let them know that you cannot talk about that subject.

In a world where information is ever more important, our personal information, work related info, etc., can be of value to other people. Luckily, we don’t share all of our information online, although this might lead some people to try to obtain the information.

They might even try to steal it through elicitation techniques. But now you know how to recognize and avoid them. Of course, in other situations, you’ll be the ones using elicitation. For example, if you want to find out your friend’s likes in order to buy them a present. Well, now you know how to acquire that information!

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.